Skip to main content

Common Dreams. Journalism funded by people, not corporations.

There has never been—and never will be—an advertisement on our site except for this one: without readers like you supporting our work, we wouldn't exist.

No corporate influence. No pay-wall. Independent news and opinion 365 days a year that is freely available to all and funded by those who support our mission: To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good.

Our mission is clear. Our model is simple. If you can, please support our Fall Campaign today.

Support Our Work -- No corporate influence. No pay-wall. Independent news funded by those who support our mission: To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. Please support our Fall Campaign today.

If they are slated for human consumption, GMO salmon would become the first genetically modified food animal in the world—and about five percent of them would be able to breed in the wild. (Photo: choo chin nian/flickr/cc)

Eco Groups Take Canadian Government to Court in GMO Salmon Fight

Genetically modified fish pose too high of a risk to surrounding ecosystems, lawsuit states

Nadia Prupis

Green groups on Tuesday launched a legal challenge against the Canadian government's approval of genetically modified (GM or GMO) salmon egg manufacturing, which they say was done in secret, violated environmental protection laws, and risks widespread, long-term damage.

"Canadians expect government decision-making to be open and transparent, especially when it comes to something as significant as manufacturing genetically-modified salmon that may pose serious risks to wild Atlantic salmon stocks," said Kaitlyn Mitchell, an attorney with the environmental law firm Ecojustice. "This decision should have never been shielded from public view."

With salmon at historically low numbers in parts of the Atlantic, the plaintiffs argued (pdf) that approving GMO salmon manufacturing violated the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, which requires new substances to be tested for toxicity to the surrounding ecosystems.

If they are slated for human consumption, GMO salmon would become the first genetically modified food animal in the world—and about five percent of them would be able to breed in the wild, Ecojustice said Tuesday.

"Approval of the world's first genetically-modified food animal essentially happened behind closed doors, with zero public input," said Mark Butler, policy director at Ecology Action Centre, a Nova Scotia-based conservation group. "Not only was the public left out of the loop, there has been no consideration of whether these genetically-modified salmon could become invasive in the event of an escape."

Under then-Prime Minister Stephen Harper, the Canadian government in 2013 approved a bid by American biotechnology firm AquaBounty to manufacture GMO salmon eggs on Prince Edward Island (PEI). From there, the eggs will be shipped to facilities in Panama and grown to adult size.

Getting the go-ahead on egg manufacturing is seen as a major step toward approval for human consumption. The company has been pursuing similar authorization in the U.S. since 1995 and its bid is currently being considered by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

A spokesperson for Canada's environmental agency said the "risk assessment concluded that there were no concerns identified to the environment or to the indirect health of Canadians due to the contained production of these GM fish eggs."

However, earlier this year, the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans released a partially-redacted draft risk assessment (pdf) which found that AquaBounty's GMO salmon are more susceptible to certain disease-causing bacteria and are displaying inconsistent growth rates and other performance parameters.

That suggests "that the growth-hormone gene construct inserted in the fish is not operating in a predictable manner, raising questions about the durability, safety and commercial viability of [GMO] salmon," the Center for Food Safety said in May.

In fact, said Friends of the Earth food and technology campaigner Dana Pearls, the assessment "adds to the body of science showing that this genetically engineered fish doesn’t offer any benefit to aquaculture, has unique health problems and presents environmental risks."

As Karen Wristen, executive director of the Living Oceans Society, said Tuesday, "By the government's own admission, the environmental risks posed by this organism are high. Wild salmon stocks are of vital importance to our country and our economy, and risks to wild Atlantic salmon should only be taken in a precautionary and fully informed manner."


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

This is the world we live in. This is the world we cover.

Because of people like you, another world is possible. There are many battles to be won, but we will battle them together—all of us. Common Dreams is not your normal news site. We don't survive on clicks. We don't want advertising dollars. We want the world to be a better place. But we can't do it alone. It doesn't work that way. We need you. If you can help today—because every gift of every size matters—please do. Without Your Support We Simply Don't Exist.

'Progressives Won't Leave Working Families Behind': Jayapal Stands Ground Against Pelosi-Biden

"We've been clear since the spring: the infrastructure bill and the Build Back Better Act pass together—and that hasn't changed."

Brett Wilkins ·


'Too Bad We Can't Tax Egos': Elon Musk Blasted for Attack on Billionaire Tax

"This country made him rich," said one critic. "He owes us."

Julia Conley ·


'Hold the Line': Progressives Push to Block Vote on Weaker Bill Without Final Text of Build Back Better

"By holding firm on keeping the Build Back Better Act and the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill firmly linked, progressives are giving their colleagues in the Senate the space and the leverage to negotiate the strongest package possible."

Common Dreams staff ·


Will They Lie or Finally Come Clean?: Watch Fossil Fuel CEOs Testify at Historic Hearing

"Will these executives own up to their misinformation, or keep trying to hide behind lies and spin?"

Andrea Germanos ·


'Pelosi Absolutely Destroyed' Tax on Billionaires, Says Democratic Insider

"The idea that Manchin is to blame for killing the billionaires' tax is too convenient," argued a journalist who spoke with party aides about the moribund proposal.

Kenny Stancil ·

Support our work.

We are independent, non-profit, advertising-free and 100% reader supported.

Subscribe to our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values.
Direct to your inbox.

Subscribe to our Newsletter.


Common Dreams, Inc. Founded 1997. Registered 501(c3) Non-Profit | Privacy Policy
Common Dreams Logo